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Spitting images

Welcome to South Park

Across the pond, the second half of the 13th season of the iconoclastic cartoon South Park is well under way. And, thanks to a wide range of (yes, probably illegal) streaming websites, UK audiences have also been able to enjoy new episodes covering subjects from this summer's glut of celebrity deaths to America's obsession with bizarrely theatrical wrestling matches.

There was a time when South Park was written off as the foul-mouthed preserve of puerile adolescents. One need only glance at previews for this week's episode (scheduled to air on Friday), which, it seems, will tackle US hysteria about Japanese whale and dolphin hunting, to realise that these days it represents something quite different. Indeed, South Park's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have in recent years been responsible for some of the sharpest social, political and cultural commentary ever to make it on to American television screens -- a more brazen, far more offensive, altogether funnier Daily Show, if you will.

In an article in the New Statesman a couple years ago, the critic and academic Eric Griffiths argued that Parker and Stone's collaborative friendship is one "that future historians will surely regard as defining an era". So, it's about time that uninitiated readers were introduced to three particularly outstanding episodes of the show. Feel free to praise any personal favourites in the comment box below.

Smug Alert (Season 10, Episode 2): The father of one of the main characters in the show buys a hybrid car because he wants to be "part of the solution and not part of the problem". Realising that his new car positions him somewhat "ahead of the curve", he moves his entire family to San Francisco, a city buried under a cloud of "smug", because of all the "self-satisfied garbage" its populace emits into the air.

About Last Night (Season 12, Episode 12): Broadcast less than a day after Barack Obama was declared winner of the 2008 presidential election, and featuring crowds of inebriated Democrats ("Everything's gonna change!") and suicidal Republicans, this episode hinges on the idea that both parties' campaigns were, in fact, hijacked by an Ocean's Eleven-style gang of jewel thieves featuring, among others, smooth-talking Barack, computer-hacking Michelle, and Sarah Palin, the beautiful brains behind the operation. Barack ultimately decides, in true Hollywood fashion, to "give this president thing a try".

The Ring (Season 13, Episode 1): Another of the show's protagonists, Kenny, takes his new girlfriend, Tammy, to a Jonas Brothers performance, where the pair are encouraged to start wearing purity rings. These rings are soon exposed as a highly profitable marketing tactic dreamt up by a potty-mouthed and megalomaniacal Mickey Mouse -- a way of selling sex to young girls without undermining Disney's reputation as a bastion of Christian, family-friendly morality.